Catalpa decision won’t impact other feedlots under review

December 28, 2018

ST. PAUL — When MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine denied the permit for the proposed Catalpa swine facility on Dec. 18, he also asked for a study that could have far-reaching ramifications.

Citing elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water in the karst region of southeast Minnesota, Stine said a study of nitrates in drinking water would need to be done, and asked the state’s Environmental Quality Board to step forward and conduct an environmental impact statement.

“The Catalpa project is the first big new feedlot application we’ve had in Fillmore County since extensive data on nitrate contamination of drinking water wells has come out,” Stine said.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has begun a survey of wells in the state.

In Fillmore County, 19 of 24 townships in Fillmore County have private wells at or above the health risk limit for nitrates, which is 10 milligrams per liter, according to the Department of Agriculture survey.

Stine said the issue is bigger than any one feedlot or farm as he called for the environmental study to be done in the region.

Will Seuffert, executive director of the Environmental Quality Board, said once a formal request has been submitted, a study will be put on an upcoming board agenda. How that request is made to the board will help to determine both the scope and the time frame for completing the study.

“Until we see a formal request, I cannot speculate on the timing or scope,” Seuffert said.

Cathy Rofshus, a spokesperson for the MPCA, said the decision on the Catalpa project and the call for a study should not have any impact on two proposed feedlot expansions also located in the region.

Daley Farms, a dairy near Lewiston in Winona County, is planning to add roughly 1,800 animal units to its current operation. Scotch Prairie Farms near Lake City has a planned expansion of more than 2,100 animal units. Both proposed projects have submitted environmental assessment worksheets and are under MPCA review.

“The Catalpa decision has no impact on either Daley Farms or Scotch Prairie,” Rofshus said. “The commissioner will determine each one on its own merits.”

In the interim, Rofshus said, feedlots that meet MPCA standards should feel free to submit plans for expansion without concern that study called for by Stine will impact their plains.

Ben Daley from Daley Farms said the Department of Agriculture study completed a few years ago was fairly extensive, and he does not believe the decision on Catalpa or the call for a new study should impact the decision on his business plans.

The Department of Ag study, he said, showed a few bad wells that were likely contaminating other wells. Daley added that nothing has tied large feedlots to nitrate contamination.

In addition to Stine, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said she believes a study of nitrate contamination is important in order to find the source of contamination, whatever it might be.

“The geology and topography of southeastern Minnesota’s karst region make it extremely vulnerable to water contamination,” Malcolm said. “Preventing additional problems is far less costly than leaving it to additional private well owners or communities to treat their water for nitrates.”

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